IPL 7: Top five storylines to watch this season

Can Virat Kohli lead Royal Challengers Bangalore to their first IPL title? (Saurabh Das/AP)

With the Indian Premier League 7 season set to kick off on Wednesday, here’s a look at some of the top storylines to watch:

Broadcast schedule: IPL 7 on SN World & sportsnet.ca

Tendulkar has left the building … so who fills the void?

The cricket world lost its Wayne Gretzky when Sachin Tendulkar retired from all forms of the game last November. Tendulkar’s place in cricket transcends the sport itself, as he is a rare player who attracts fans on a global level. Although Tendulkar’s play had not met the standard he set for himself the past few years, his absence in this year’s tournament will make an indelible mark, especially for casual fans.

The IPL’s current wave of stars has the unenviable task of trying to replace a once-in-a-generation talent. So who will fill the void? Bangalore’s trio of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers will engineer one of the league’s best offences (more on that below), and Kohli has been in the form of his career. Delhi’s Kevin Pietersen has an explosive ability to score runs in bunches, and that has won him a number of fans over the past decade. And there’s also Rajasthan’s Shane Watson, whose all-around brilliance has kept cricket fans on the edge of their seats for years.

Without question, the IPL has enough promising stars to build the league on.

How will the newly established player auction system affect the IPL?

At the end of the IPL 6 season, each team was allowed to retain five players from their current roster — four of whom could be Indian — and the rest of the league’s pool was submitted to a player auction. Fantasy sports have met real life in the IPL and the landscape of the league has shifted drastically. The rich became richer when last year’s top run scorer Michael Hussey was purchased by the defending champion Mumbai Indians.

Many teams had to pay heavily to keep their international stars, with Delhi issuing $1.5 million to retain English batsman extraordinaire Kevin Pietersen. Meanwhile, Yuvraj Singh struggled mightily in the recent Twenty20 World Cup for India, and was signed to a $2.3-million record fee by the Royal Challengers Bangalore. The pressure will build immensely if he continues his poor run of play into IPL 7.

All eyes on Virat Kohli

Kohli is the IPL’s incumbent superstar, and has the attention of a nation after leading India to an ICC Twenty20 final appearance, before bowing out to Sri Lanka. Named Man of the Series after scoring a tournament-best 319 runs, Kohli has become India’s cricketing hero and now has the difficult task of steering Bangalore to its first IPL title.

Kohli has the chance to become the global face of the league, entering its seventh year of play. Upon securing global sponsors such as Pepsi, Adidas and Toyota, the 25-year-old right-hander possesses an outreach that few cricketers have. His popularity within India is undeniable after strong outputs donning the country’s blue shirt.

An IPL title is one of the few awards that have eluded the Delhi native in his career thus far. If Kohli can channel his individual brilliance into team glory, he could become the singular superstar that the league has lacked in its first decade.

Mumbai’s quest for back-to-back championships

Mumbai looks set to defend their first-ever IPL championship. The Indians navigated the player auction process extremely well, protecting their core players: captain and batsman Rohit Sharma, fellow batsman Ambati Rayudu, bowlers Harbhajan Singh and Lasith Malinga and all-rounder Kieron Pollard. In an eight-team league, protecting a team’s core stars is imperative to long-term success.

Like many championship teams, Mumbai avoided complacency by signing IPL 6’s top run scorer Michael Hussey away from league finalist and rival Chennai Super Kings, and added depth to its bowling attack by bringing in veteran fast-bowler Zaheer Khan. Mumbai is clearly focused on winning a second consecutive championship, and although Bangalore and Chennai will challenge, the Indians’ depth and experience makes them the early favourite to repeat.

Will Bangalore’s Big 3 have enough to lead the club to its first title?

Royal Challengers Bangalore has yet to capture an IPL title, a somewhat astonishing fact when you consider its embarrassment of riches. Bangalore’s terrific trio of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers have the potential to lead the Challengers to the league’s best offence and spearhead a deep run into the IPL 7 playoffs.

Kohli has made his mark as the game’s top batsman, and is currently in the form of his life. It is likely that he will bat second behind the indomitable Chris Gayle, who scored the most runs per match in IPL 6. Gayle scores with torrential outpour — look no further than his mind-boggling 175 on 66 balls vs. Pune last year — and makes up the league’s top pairing alongside Kohli. Meanwhile, AB de Villiers has the ability to provide consistent secondary scoring, while exhibiting some of the best fielding displays in the game.

Bangalore’s biggest problems are it lacks depth, and its bowling attack won’t induce fear from any of its opponents. Will their Big 3 be enough? Time will only tell, but Bangalore’s scorching-hot offence may just take the league by storm.

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